“Mommy, come here!” Tommy shouted eagerly, standing next to the sliding door opening onto the back porch.
“Just a minute!” came his mother’s faint reply from somewhere inside the house.
“Hurry up!” he yelled frantically, tapping his hand on the glass window.
“What is it, Tommy?” she asked, coming up behind him.
“Look!” He pointed out the window at a fluffy ball sitting outside the door.
“What is that?” she exclaimed, peering through the smudged glass.
“It’s a mouse head!” he replied excitedly.
“Eww, gross!” Lucy gagged, peeking over Tommy’s shoulder.
“Where could that have come from?” Mom wondered aloud.
“I don’t know, but I’m gonna find out!” Tommy proudly exclaimed.
“Really?” Lucy peered at him skeptically. “And how do you propose to do that?”
“You don’t need to be all mean, just cause I’m younger than you,” Tommy pouted.
“Lucy, be nice to your little brother,” Mom gently scolded. “How about you offer to help him?”
“No way!” she protested. “Leave me out of this! I want nothing to do with a gross mouse head that was left by who-knows-what on our back porch. How about you ask Justin? Aren’t dead animals more a boy’s thing anyway?”
“Great idea!” Mom agreed.
“Wait!” Tommy called out suddenly. “I want to do this by myself.”
“Are you sure?” Mom questioned.
“Yes!” he replied with a determined look on his face.
“Well, all right, then,” Mom sighed. “But if you need any help, make sure to ask your dad or me or one of your siblings, okay?”
“Ok, Mom! Now go! I have some investigating to do!” The little boy shooed his mother and sister away with impatient hands.
“Ok, ok, we’re going!” Mom laughed. “Good luck!”
“You’ll need it,” Lucy muttered under her breath.
Ignoring his sister, Tommy turned and tugged the sliding glass door open. Stepping outside, he tiptoed over to the furry ball on the patio.
“Well, well, well. What have we got here?” he murmured, walking in a circle around the ball to examine it from all angles. He pranced over to a cluster of trees near the edge of the backyard and picked up a loose twig lying on the ground. Running back to the decapitated head, he proceeded to poke and prod it with the stick.
“Ew! Good thing Lucy isn’t here. This thing is gross! Look, there’s even dried blood on the patio. Uh oh, I hope Mom doesn’t make me clean it up!”
“Hey, Tommy, whatcha got there?” Sarah poked her head out the door, smiling at him.
“A dead mouse’s head!” he replied proudly. Sarah’s grin quickly faded.
“Gross!” she exclaimed, before hastily pulling herself back inside and slamming the door closed. Tommy laughed out loud.
“Silly girls! Can’t handle dead animals. Anyway, back to business. I’ve got to find out where this thing came from. Hmm…let’s see. What could have happened? Someone in my family could have put it here as a joke. Nah, none of the girls would be brave enough and Dad and Justin are too busy to play a prank like this. What about Scruffy? Maybe he found it somewhere and dragged it here as a present. Better yet, maybe he killed the mouse! That’s it! I’ll keep watch on Scruffy! Here, Scruffy! Where’d that dog run off to this time?”
Impatiently, Tommy jumped up, brushed off his knees, and ran around the backyard, calling for his dog. Not under the playset, not in the pool, not behind the bushes. Is he inside the house? Tommy darted back to the sliding door, pulled it open, and began running through the house calling out for Scruffy.
“Hey, pipe down out there!” Justin yelled angrily from behind his closed bedroom door.
“You pipe down!” Tommy yelled back in reply.
“Tommy, dear!” Mom called up the stairs. “Can you please be a little quieter? Grandma is trying to sleep.”
“Again?” Tommy sighed. “Ok, Mom, I’ll be quieter,” he called down to her. “Grandma is always sleeping. Hmm, maybe when she wakes up I can show her my dead mouse’s head! No, I better not. Mom and Dad will get mad at me if I scare Grandma.” He continued to search through the house, peeking in bedrooms, peering under furniture, searching through all the rooms.
“Aha! There you are, boy!” Tommy ran eagerly towards the fluffy dog, sleeping next to the couch. “Were you the one who left the mouse head on the back porch? Were you?” The dog lay silent and unmoving.
“Hey, Scruffy! Wake up!” The furry nose twitched a few times and Scruffy sleepily opened his eyes to peer up at Tommy. “I asked you if you were the one who left the mouse head on the back porch?” Scruffy blinked at Tommy and let out a bark before resting his head on his paws.
“Oh right, you’re a dog. You can’t answer me. How am I going to figure out if you did this? Hmm, maybe you still have blood on your paws or in your mouth?” Tommy picked up the dog’s paws to examine them before cautiously peering at his mouth.
“Well, I don’t see any blood there, so maybe you weren’t the one who left the mouse head on the porch. Let’s see…what else could have happened? Did the mouse go there itself and die? No, how else would it have been decapitated? Maybe a bird dropped it! That’s it! But how am I going to find the bird that did it? I can’t go find every bird in the neighborhood and look for bloody claws and beaks. Now I’m stuck again. Oh well. I’m going to go sit outside and think for a while.”
The dejected boy slowly dragged his way towards the back door and sat down with a sigh. As he sat there, looking around at his backyard, he noticed some birds flying around. They flitted here and there, sometimes landing in a tree, sometimes grabbing some seeds from the birdfeeder.
“I know!” Tommy exclaimed excitedly. “I can just watch the birds from here and see if any of them drop off another mouse’s head! But I better not wait right here otherwise I might scare the birds away. Hmm…I know! I’ll hide behind that bush over there.” Quickly, Tommy jumped off the back porch and darted behind a round rose bush planted at the edge of his backyard. He sat there a while, watching the birds flit to and fro, smelling the fragrant scent of the roses. Every once in a while, he yawned and shifted to a more comfortable position. I wonder why no birds are coming? Maybe they can see me still and I’m scaring them away. Or maybe they see the mouse head that I left…
“Oops! I left the mouse head on the patio! I better to move that out of the way so that the birds can drop off a new one!” He squirmed out of his hiding place and hurried towards the fluffy ball. Picking up the stick he had discarded earlier, he pushed at the head until it rolled off the edge of the patio into the grass, leaving a faint trail of blood behind.
“Uh oh. I didn’t see that. Oh well.” Jumping down next to the ball, he brushed some dirt over it in an imitation of a burial and then quickly ran back to hide behind the bush.
For a few minutes, Tommy patiently sat behind the rosebush, yawning every once in a while. About five minutes later, he fell asleep, drowsy in the warm sunlight. Taking no notice of the animals’ activities around him, Tommy slumbered peacefully in the shadow of the rosebush.
“Tommy!” A sharp call from somewhere close by roused the boy from his nap.
“Tommy! It’s time for dinner! Come in and wash your hands!”
Tommy yawned and rubbed his eyes. Sitting up, he looked around and realized his mistake. “Oh no! I fell asleep! And I didn’t see if any birds dropped off another mouse head!” Quickly, he peeked around the rosebush to get a clearer view of the patio. “Phew! No mouse head. That means the birds didn’t leave another one yet. But that also means I still don’t know who’s behind this mystery. Maybe I can sit out here a few more minutes to see if a bird comes.
“Tommy!” Mom came to the door and peeked her head out. “Did you not hear me? It’s time for dinner!”
“Just five more minutes!” Tommy begged eagerly. “I really want to see if a bird comes and drops off another mouse head.”
“Oh, all right,” his mother agreed reluctantly. “Five more minutes. But after that, you come right inside, ok?”
“Ok!” Excitedly, Tommy hunkered down again in preparation for his five-minute vigil. As two minutes stretched to three, Tommy grew worried that no animal would show up and he would be forced to go inside for dinner. Crossing his fingers and hoping with all his might, Tommy fixed his eyes upon the porch and stared determinedly.
A faint movement in the bushes drew Tommy’s attention to the left of the porch. A shadowy figure crept out of the shrubs and danced up to the porch. Leaning forward to get a better glimpse, Tommy recognized the gold and white stripes of one of the neighborhood cats. Silently, he watched. Proudly, the cat pranced right up to the door and dropped a small bundle of fur. Jumping down gracefully, the cat ran back into the bushes and disappeared from sight.
Popping up out of the rosebush, Tommy sprinted towards the porch, yelling at the top of his lungs. “Mommy! Mommy! Come here! Come here!” Dropping on his knees next to the furry ball, he gasped for breath. The sliding door screeched open and his mother’s head popped out, followed by Lucy’s.
“What is it, Tommy?” his mother asked patiently.
“I figured it out! I solved the mystery!”
“You did?” Lucy asked incredulously.
“Yes, I did! It was the cat all this time!”
“How do you know?” Sarah asked, joining the crowd at the door.
“I was watching from behind the rosebush over there,” he pointed to the right, “when I saw the cat—you know, the gold and white striped neighborhood cat—come out from the bushes over there,” again, he pointed in the correct direction, “carrying something small in its mouth. It jumped up here, dropped the ball, and ran back into the bushes. That’s when I ran up here, calling for you, and found this!” Four heads peered down at the bloody bundle of fur sitting in the middle of the porch.
“Another dead mouse’s head!”